A Three-Day Plan to Increase Your Focus
Think faster, find your focus, and sharpen your concentration – right away.
Posted July 30, 2012 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
How you pay attention will either help or hurt you on a day-to-day basis. This is because attention plays a critical role in what you think, feel, remember, and how you act. It affects your motivation and ability to hit your goals and in particular, goals that are meaningful to you. Attention affects the accuracy of your decisions and how they snowball into purposeful living. It will clarify who you are and the person you want to be and help you build the scaffold to get there. And all of this grows into your life’s story.
Good attention is controlled attention guided by good choices. Funny as it may seem, your first job as chief executive of this mechanism is to pay attention to how you are paying attention. The wider the variety of circumstances you are able to do this in, the better.
There are a lot of aspects regarding overall wellness that better attention could improve. Let’s take a look.
In everyday conversation, most of us associate attentional strength with whether we feel focused or scattered, how well we can concentrate on a tennis game, math problem, or stay on top of a discussion.
But what we may not always consider is how our attention also affects our relationships, feelings of contentment or irritability, pain management, and whether we feel energized or depressed. We seldom attach health and wellness issues to how we pay attention.
So a good first step in trying to regulate and utilize your power of attention is to begin noting how things that enter your attentional field are affecting the way you feel, think, and act. Then take a look at how those interrelate and put you on one path or another as you work toward daily (and even longer-range) goals.
In my book, Can I Have Your Attention? I discuss hundreds of attention training techniques. But if you can latch onto just one of these, you can significantly amp up your attention—and then, of course, the more the better.
What makes things interesting is that in many ways, your attention is as uniquely your own as your fingerprint. So, at the heart of training better attention is discovering your own special way of paying attention and learning how to make it work for you.
Here is a three-day plan you can start to begin increasing your attention right away.
Spend some time as you go through your daily routines becoming more self-aware. That is: noticing how you are paying attention. Note:
- When your attention is optimum and when it is low? Consider various times, tasks, people, places (like going to a daily business meeting in the afternoon).
- If you feel your attention is low, ask: Am I too mellow? Or the opposite, am I too anxious? Is my mood in my way? Is there something invading my thoughts I need to get off my mind? Am I having destructive thoughts?
- At the end of the day, see what kinds of things are distracting you. Distracters will, of course, change as the many variables that can affect you per day change. But the more you repeat this activity, the more you will discover “your” patterns of distraction.
- Later in the day, take a look at your list. Pick a significant incident.
- What was I trying to accomplish (your goal) in this situation?
- What were others (if this applies) trying to accomplish?
- Which of my behaviors worked? Which didn’t? Why?
- What did I need to be more attentive to?
- Did I need more energy to stay focused? Less energy, was I too anxious? Was I irritable? Did I need to sway my emotions in order to maintain focus? Could something or someone have biased me—perhaps under my radar? Did I need a better night’s sleep the night before? Was I unable to shut down other thoughts rivering through my mind uninvited?
So Day One will be spent paying attention to how you pay attention within the various and more significant elements of your own daily routine. Let’s make note of these so you can refer to them later.
Strategize how to ward off your distracters. Find a quiet place during your day or evening during which you can consider a few ways to begin turning off some of your distracters. Think about and identify those you feel you could control and which predictably invade important daily routines.
The following is a list of strategies that can help.
- Empty your mind. Delete negative emotions from your mind and replace them with a clean and open mindset.
- Take a breath. Breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. What’s important is to put your attention on the sound (both in-breath and out). Make this sound your prompt to pause and evaluate the data you need to make your next move. The more you do this the more you will ingrain the process in your mind, the more automatically you will begin to get your bearings in the future.
- Use color. Visualize the colors of a traffic light: green, yellow, red. Use these colors to help you to consciously slow down and to put more mind into your next move—e.g. green to go ahead; yellow to slow down and think further or to advance with caution (and awareness), red to stop and re-evaluate your next move. This will give you more control over thoughts, emotions, memories, biases, data you see, hear, etc that can influence your attention and ability to gain the perspective you need to see and pursue a successful path to your goal.
- Use power words or phrases. This is a favorite in athletics. You’ve all heard a coach trying to move a player one way or another by shouting, “Go, go, go!” Or “Be strong!” Or “Lighten up, lighten up!” My favorite power phrase comes from the Tao Te Ching, “Be Like Water,” on which I wrote an entire book, exploring it in terms of athletics, Eastern wisdom, and especially day-by-day living. Lao Tzu makes water (in the TTC) his guiding metaphor for any life situation. Ask: What quality of water would be most appropriate presently? To be: light, quick, still, reflecting, invisible, cold and solid, to go over, under, around or over things and so on. I love this anthem.
- Create an image. Imagine someone who has the qualities you need at this specific moment. Ask: How would he/she respond? Try to “download” the qualities you like about this individual’s mindset and move from there.
- Finger-paint your name. This is an activity, with movement that you can try if you are in an appropriate space. Visualize a canvas in front of you. Imagine the palms of your hands coated with finger-paint. Take a few deep breaths and relax. Then, using the palms of both hands simultaneously, paint your name on the canvass you have visualized. Move slowly, stay relaxed and continue breathing slowly and deeply. This can create a nice mindset that is both calm and energized at the same time. You need about 7-12 minutes to energize. Twelve minutes to calm down.
- Use music/natural sounds. Start by identifying songs that move you either up or down or which will launch you into a simultaneously calm and energized mindset. As you select, pay attention to some of the variables when your song works—at the beginning of the day (but not later) or vice versa, when you are already in a good mood, when you are depressed, but not when you are just a little tired, etc. Remember you can combine music w/ scent, movement, and visualization. You need about 7-12 minutes to energize. Twelve minutes to calm down.
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Start training your mind to act the way you want it to in specific daily situations. Pick one or two of your day’s goals and try out your strategies.
Of course, this plan only handles a few patterns of distraction. Realistically, it cannot handle all of them. It is, however, a start toward understanding and implementing self-regulation.
To learn more techniques you can use to sharpen your attention, check out of my book, Can I Have Your Attention? How to Think Fast, Find Your Focus and Sharpen Your Concentration.